Free legal help for homeowners

July 14, 2009 10:11:47 AM PDT
Free legal help could now be more accessible to thousands of Philadelphia homeowners.

Pearl Pierce was going to lose her home to foreclosure until she went through the Philadelphia Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program.

The name's a mouthful but it's really pretty simple. It's a court-sponsored program where lenders meet with borrowers to try to work out an affordable mortgage payment plan.

It's also where Pearl found a lawyer to work on her case pro bono - meaning for free!

"She went out of her way, she was so helpful to me Pearl Pierce of West Oak Lane told Action News. "So all of the prayers I asked the Lord to do - he answered"

Stefanie Seldin of Philadelphia VIP told Action News that there are 300 lawyers mostly from small to medium-sized and solo firms. A non-profit legal agency, Philadelphia VIP specially trains lawyers to help low-income folks in the program.

Sledin adds, though, that the problem is "to sustain the program we really need to hit the large law firms."

But many of those firms have lawyers who represent the lenders.

"If you have 300 lawyers in a firm and 10 of them represent Citi - those other 290 could not participate in this program until now," Sledin says.

Now, Citi has agreed to waive conflicts of interest for law firms who participate in the foreclosure diversion program. Citi says it's a win-win: It has loans that are being paid back again, and homeowners get to avoid a lot of anguish.

"The impact can be devastating," Don Haskin of Citi says. "So we want to make sure we're doing the right thing." If other big lenders follow suit, potentially thousands of homeowners like Pearl can be helped by thousands of other free lawyers.

Philadelphia VIP always has a big table set up at the conciliation conferences. You'll get matched up with a free lawyer on-the-spot. By the way, Citi is also giving a grant to Philadelphia VIP to help them recruit and train these volunteer lawyers.

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